Accra – As part of activities to mark this year’s Human Rights Day, UNIC-Accra in collaboration with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice organized a forum during which human rights defenders interacted with the youth.
The theme for the Gender Equality Day was “Combating Gender- Based Violence – Focus on Young People.” Presentations were made by Madam Christiana Ankama on behalf of the Minister for Women & Children’s Affairs. Her topic was “Combating Gender-Based Violence – A Focus on Young People.” Ms. Caroline Nalule, Regional Co-ordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative spoke on “Human Rights Defenders & Discrimination – Challenges and Prospects” and the third presentation by Ms. Betty Ayagiba, Executive Director of the Widows & Orphans Movement, considered the topic “Human Rights Defenders & Discrimination: Defending the Rights of Widows.”
The Minister for Women & Children’s Affairs, called for a united front of all women to fight gender-based violence in their communities. She noted that gender-based violence was a global problem and in Ghana like other Africans countries, gender-based violence was condoned under some cultural practices and religious beliefs. She said even though “gender-based violence was the most prevalent, yet it was the most hidden form of violence that affected the well-being of women and girls.”
She recounted the number of ‘beautiful laws’ the Ghana has passed over the years and the international Treaties and Conventions it has ratified all aimed at protecting women and girls and wondered “why women and girls still suffer discrimination and various forms of abuses.”
She stressed that “human rights of women are inalienable, integrated and indivisible part of human rights” and urged the UN and governments to prioritize the “full and equal enjoyment by women of all human rights.
The Minister explained that gender-based violence took several forms including physical, sexual, economic and psychological admitting that even though both men and women were subject to gender-based violence women and girls were more prone.
On her part, Madam Betty Ayagiba, Executive Director of the Widows & Orphans Movement, pointed out that widows went through cultural widowhood rights as a result of “ignorance, illiteracy, fear of maltreatment and rejection, acceptance of the situation due to its long existence, respect for their late husbands as well as the fear of being sacked from their homes and also because of their children.”
She recounted some of the human rights abuses girls and women go through in the name of culture and their adverse effects and called on the Government and non-governmental organizations to intensify their educational programmes to raise awareness in communities about traditional practices and policies that discriminate against women.
Madam Ayagiba urged chiefs, queen-mothers and other traditional leaders to take the lead in promoting advocacy for the elimination of negative widowhood practices. She called on the country’s judicial system, law enforcement and human rights agencies to work as a team to fight gender-based violence.
Ms. Caroline Nalule, Regional Co-ordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative looked at who human rights defenders are, narrowed it down to women human rights defenders and spelt out some of their challenges. She said because of the nature of their work, human rights defenders were often targeted, subjected to assassinations, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment, restrictions on their freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly. Also, a number of human rights defenders were living in self-imposed exile.
Ms. Nalule mentioned some of the successes of human rights defenders in Ghana as making the Government to sign the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Protocols, inclusion of the Rights of Women in the country’s Constitution, establishment of the Ministry of Women & Children’s Affairs and the representation of women at various levels of Government .
She however expressed concern about the country’s judicial sector’s response to women’s rights issues, girl-child school enrollment and education, effects of the extractive industries on women and the enjoyment of their rights.
Some widows shared their experiences with the audience having gone through widowhood rites and there was a role play on widowhood practices in Ghana by the World Miracle Church Drama Group.
Questions students raised included if children could report their abusive parents, where to send those reports, who were responsible for widowhood rites, if such people could be reported to the police, what measures the Ghana Government had taken to protect widows in Ghana and which agencies in Ghana were responsible for enforcing laws that protect women and girls against gender-based violence.
The programme was chaired by Prof. Kenneth Attafuah, a legal practitioner and criminologist.